What is the greatest possible number of red cards that a referee can give in a football match?

Does such a limit even exist?

If so, does it vary from league to league and tournament to tournament?

1 Answer 1


There is no limit to the number of red cards that a referee can give, though the game would be stopped as soon as there are less than 7 players of a team remaining legally on the pitch.

As of Law 3 in the FIFA Law Book, there cannot be less than 7 players of a team, on the field during play. In effect, a maximum of 4 on-field players of the same team can be dismissed. Once 5 on-field players (substitutes do not count) of the same team are red carded, the match ends.
If the referee has red-carded 4 players and all 7 substitutes of each team (22 players in total), the game can still continue, provided there are no further red cards to players of either side.

The law (for continuation of the game) however, states only the on-field players. There is no limit to the number of red cards that can be shown to the substitutes on the bench, the manager and the coaching staff. Also, red cards can be handed to the on-field players/substitutes/coaching staff after the game has ended based on the referee reports and video analysis (wherever applicable).

The record for the most red-cards handed out in a single match is during a fifth tier Argentinian league game between Claypole and Victoriano Arenas, where 36 red cards were shown.

  • @Orangecrush You may very well be correct, but the law that you cite appears to only relate to minimum of 7 players on each team being needed to start a match ("a match may not start if either team consists of fewer than seven players"). Have you a citation that indicates that an in-progress match would be abandoned if fewer than 7 players remained? What would the result be in such a situation?
    – Spinner
    May 23, 2013 at 16:36
  • 1
    Further to my query I've found this quote in the FIFA Interpretation of the Laws: "although a match may not START if either team consists of fewer than seven players, the minimum number of players in a team required for a match to CONTINUE is left to the discretion of member associations. However, it is the opinion of the International F.A. Board that a match should not continue if there are fewer than seven players in either team." So it's up to the association to decide its policy.
    – Spinner
    Oct 12, 2013 at 10:06
  • 3
    What will the final score be if the game ended by sending more than 4 on-field player off in a team?
    – Qian Chen
    May 17, 2015 at 15:15
  • @ElgsQianChen that depends on the competition rules, but that should really be asked as a separate question. May 18, 2015 at 11:15
  • 2
    You cannot red-card the manager or coaching staff. You can send them off, but no card is displayed. However I don't think this actually makes any difference to the question and the quality of the answer.
    – James Well
    Apr 5, 2017 at 7:28

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